Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Top 10 Life Lessons of Chess

The following appears in the April edition of Chicago Parent magazine.

I spend inordinate amounts of time trying to convince my kids to embrace traits that are completely foreign to me. Patience would top that list. I cannot tell you how often I have yelled in a public place: “CALM DOWN AND STOP ACTING LIKE LUNATICS THIS INSTANT!” For effect, I might then throw something to the ground. One time, it was my phone - which promptly shattered into a million pieces.

The irony is not lost on me.

When I first taught my sons to play the game of chess, there were ulterior motives. Outwardly, I shared extensive data regarding chess and child brain development with anyone who asked. Yet inwardly, I knew the truth. I was relying on a board game to impart critical life lessons. My children have been students of chess most of their lives and are fair players. As their first teacher, I worked hard to instruct them on the basics, but then quickly turned them over to more experienced players and tutors. If the kids ever knew my deep, dark secret, they would be shocked.


I suck at it. Without the patience, strategic mind, and attention span needed to win, I become distracted with my own maneuvers and fail to notice my opponents’ tactics. With my boys, there was a strong desire to impart a level of discipline I always lacked. Chess was the answer.

Some lessons of the game are obvious. Many are subtle and nuanced. There are a thousand hidden lectures on morality, temptation, and even mercy within the board’s rank and file. Preaching to kids the keys to being a good person is an exercise in futility, but having them experience it through a game can plant lifelong seeds.

For purposes of this column, I have narrowed down just a few of the pearls of wisdom gleaned from this storied game of kings:
The  Top Ten Lessons of Chess

1. The world is comprised of people who move in all different directions. Pay attention.

2. Sometimes, there is no going back no matter how badly you want to.

3. Protect those who may appear slow and vulnerable. There are kings amongst us.

4. A strong woman can go wherever the hell she wishes.

5. The most remarkable transformations are not instantaneous, but instead occur over long intervals, one square at a time.

6. Stay out of dark corners. Bad things can happen.

7. A knight in shining armor, by nature, will skip right over you.

8. Religion can be slanted.

9. During your final endgame, those most easily taken for granted often become the only ones who stand with you.

10. One bad move does not a person make. How you recover from your missteps is your lasting legacy.

There you have it. Everything you need to know about life right there on a checkered board. With minds young and pliable, I feel strongly all kids could benefit. Sadly for me, it is far too late. I pretty much tapped out at Candy Land, becoming frustrated over never landing the shortcut at Gum Drop Mountain.

Like I said. Zero patience.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015